No Place Better Than Kindergarten

Kindergarten. When people ask what I do for a living and I tell them I teach Kindergarten, I get a range of interesting reactions. Many people respond with a look of fear or dread on their faces and incredulity at the idea of spending one’s days with a room full of 5-year-olds. Others speculate about how much fun it must be to spend one’s days in Kindergarten, perhaps reminiscing about their own fun-filled Kindergarten years. Having spent the last school year as my first year teaching Senior Kindergarten after teaching a variety of other grades for 16 years, I can assure you there is no place I would rather be.

What is life like in Kindergarten?  Well, there is no shortage of energy; that is for sure. It oozes out of their little bodies and minds every minute of every day. Their curiosity knows no limits, and their endless enthusiasm is extremely contagious. I have to say that it is truly inspiring to see the world through the eyes of a group of 5-year-olds. They explore and wonder and try to figure out the answers to their multitude of questions. Their imaginations take them beyond the limits they may come to know later in life. Wooden blocks become underwater sea castles, roads, storefronts, or forts. Little bits of paper become “dudes” that travel around the classroom in the hands of their creators. A few sticks, some paper, and a whole lot of tape are magically transformed into a kite or a flying machine of their own invention. When Kindergarten kids find something they want to do, they approach it with determination, creativity, and persistence. They are not afraid to try something new. If it doesn’t work the first time, they make adjustments and try again. Taking responsible risks happens naturally every day, without a second thought. The way Kindergarten kids embrace learning creates a magical environment where anything is possible.

In so many ways, the kind of learning that happens in Kindergarten should be used as a model for older grades. At KCS, many things happen that try to preserve that spirit of learning for the love of it. While there may not be the same flexibility in terms of subject matter, the more we can let kids hang onto learning for the love of it and in ways about which they are passionate, the longer we can let the magic continue. Because why shouldn’t all students have the opportunity to say, as did one of my students to a classmate last year, “My face hurts from smiling so much!” That sums up the world of Kindergarten.

Kerrie Robins
Senior Kindergarten Teacher
Kingsway College School

Learning What We Don’t Want to Learn

Habits of Mind, Body and ActionThe first Habit on our poster is ‘Embrace Learning’. Don’t let the soothing tone of the word ‘embrace’ deceive you. We could have just as easily described it as ‘Learn whether you like it or not’.

Learning can be like that. Thankfully, most of the time, and certainly at KCS, learning does feel like a warm embrace. It’s delivered by teachers who evidently care about their students and about making learning as positive as possible. And so it should be.

I’ve been reminded recently, however, about the underbelly of ‘embrace learning’, a side that was always intentionally part of that Habit, but that may have gone unnoticed, hidden in the shadows of the ever-more pleasant type of learning that is more the norm here. I’m talking about those important lessons in life that we resist, the lessons we’d prefer not to learn, but learn we should. They may challenge our character, or reveal a sandy foundation upon which we had built mighty assumptions. These lessons may arise when exams yield lower marks than expected; sometimes they arise when we’ve done something we’re later ashamed of; sometimes they will trip up students who otherwise find learning very easy, but then are faced with a topic that is annoyingly difficult to understand. Though these examples focus on the young, we’re never too old for these lessons. And while these examples focus on others, I don’t pretend to be immune.

Humans are generally a comfort-seeking lot. Daniel Willingham, cognitive scientist and author of Why Students Don’t Like School, argues that the brain strives to be as efficient as possible, lazy even, preferring to do as it wishes and not as it is forced to do. Add a dash of limited understanding, bias, immaturity, emotion, or over-confidence, and you have someone ready for one of these most humbling lessons. If they embrace it.

Most learning should feel like a warm embrace. But growing up and being our best self will include these more challenging lessons too. While decidedly uncomfortable, the reward for their steep price is broader understanding, growing maturity, more rational thought and healthy humility. Resilience, thinking flexibly and the ability to persist, three other noteworthy habits, also grow as a result.

That’s learning worth embracing.

Andrea Fanjoy,
Assistant Head, Academics
You can follow Andrea on Twitter @afanjoy.

School and Other Things that Scare Us

Some lessons need to come from afar to be noticed.

Maasai Warriors visit KCSTwo special guests visited KCS last Friday. Jackson and Wilson, young Maasai warriors from Kenya, came as ambassadors for Free the Children. Draped in their traditional regalia, they told stories of growing up in their mid-African country, fleeing drought, herding cattle and collecting beaded bracelets from their “mammas” when they did good deeds, bracelets which they still wear with pride today.

Mindful of the young audience, they only shared one scary story. It was the story of how schools came to the Maasai. This was a terrifying development for parents, and their terror was passed down to their children. Moms and Dads told their offspring to never go near “school”, as it was a place that took children away from their parents and stole from them their culture and traditions. If policemen tried to force them to go, children were told to run.

Sure enough, the policemen came and children ran. In Wilson’s case, a police officer caught up and threw the young boy over his shoulder. He offered Wilson a candy and explained that school was just as sweet. The officer carried Wilson back to his parents, and, according to Wilson’s recollection, school was similarly explained to them. Wilson and Jackson not only ended up going to school but also became the first in their community to earn university degrees.

In my experience, the value of what is learned from cross-cultural exchanges is beyond measure.  The novelty in their details makes the universal lesson in the story that much more evident and memorable. One lesson from our Friday visit is that change can be both scary and wise. Though our community of Etobicoke and the entire developed world is long past any fear of schooling, we are not done changing and not beyond being fearful of change, even if it is right and positive. A daily read of the newspaper is full of such stories.

Jackson and Wilson are testaments to what can happen when positive change is embraced. Their experience with schooling, despite the rocky start, is a story of thinking flexibly, questioning, being curious, embracing learning (including that which challenged their assumptions) and ultimately, taking responsible risks.

Great lesson. Thanks, Wilson and Jackson, for coming from Kenya to our little corner of Etobicoke so we can learn from it.

Andrea Fanjoy,
Assistant Head, Academics
You can follow Andrea on Twitter @afanjoy.